As federal employees brace themselves for furlough days, members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) rallied against the sequester in downtown Chicago today.
Chanting anti-austerity slogans and carrying signs, more than 100 union members and supporters gathered in Federal Plaza Wednesday to protest $85 billion in across-the-board federal budget cuts that went into effect March 1.
“Congress in their infinite wisdom are cutting jobs through sequestration,” said John O’Grady, president of the AFGE Local 704, which represents workers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA workers face up to 13 furlough days over six months as a result of the sequester. O’Grady said his union hasn’t seen a pay raise since 2010.
“We need to call, write, email and visit our congressional representatives and senators and tell them to stop, or they won’t be voted back in office,” he said. “They need to do something for the American people for a change and not just support the people who fund campaigns.”
Sequester cuts slashed $472 million from the EPA’s budget this year, with $74 million coming from the Superfund, which is responsible for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.
O’Grady called for revenue-generating initiatives to offset sequester cuts, such as closing tax-loopholes and raising taxes.
Here’s more from O’Grady:
The federal government is the largest employer in the nation. Making up 1.2 percent of the American workforce, it has approximately 2.1 million employees. More than half of all federal government workers face furloughs over the next six months.
“They’re not analyzing the problem correctly, our debt situation would be sustainable if our economy could just keep growing, but sequestration is going to reverse growth,” said Ken Brucks, president of the AFGE Local 911, which represents employees of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Calling members of congress “children”, Brucks said the partisan gridlock that has prevented a legislative solution to the sequester is “hurting the entire economy.”
Democrats are insisting that an alternative plan should include additional new revenues along with spending cuts. Republicans are insisting on an approach that focuses solely on spending cuts.
“With a 9.9 percent unemployment rate in Chicagoland, now is not the time to cut budgets,” he said. “We actually need more stimulus.”
With $66 million being slashed from its budget, HUD’s 9,000 employees nationwide face up to seven furlough days as a consequence of the sequester.
Here’s more from Brucks:
Chicago’s Stop the Sequester rally was one of more than 100 protests nationwide, part of a mass anti-austerity demonstration organized by the AFGE.
“Instead of coming to some sort of compromise, they’re just meat-axing the budget,” said Brent Barron, president of AFGE Local 648, which represents employees at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Most DOL employees are slated for five furlough days, but Barron said some would be getting 10 days off as a result of the sequester.
“People in my union are concerned. How are they going to make their car payments? How are they going to make house payments? This is going to have a direct impact on their incomes.”
Here’s more from the rally: